Coronavirus: Supermarkets prioritise deliveries to vulnerable

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Grocery deliveryImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The supermarkets involved are Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and Iceland

Four supermarkets in NI have agreed with the Department for Communities to prioritise delivery slots for people who are shielding during the pandemic.

The supermarkets involved are Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and Iceland.

Anyone in need of the scheme must fill in a form on the NI Direct website, which asks for a GP letter advising self-isolation.

The department will check eligibility and share details with the supermarkets.

They will contact customers directly to advise what delivery slots are available.

Almost 80,000 people in Northern Ireland were contacted by their GP advising them to self-isolate or shield during the Covid-19 crisis, due to health conditions.

Shielding means that those patients are advised not to leave home as they are at high risk if they contract Covid-19.

Priority deliveries were made available in England in March, when supermarkets were given access to a government database of 1.5 million vulnerable shoppers, but the system is different in other parts of the UK.

Last month, BBC News NI reported on the difficulties faced by shielding customers who could not book delivery slots, despite having been advised not to leave home for 12 weeks.

Geraldine Herdman-Grant and her 76-year-old husband, James, described how they were getting up in the middle of the night in an attempt to secure food deliveries to their home just outside Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.

Image caption,
Geraldine Herdman-Grant and her husband James Pratt described getting up during the night to try to secure a delivery slot

It's incredibly stressful," Ms Herdman-Grant said at the time.

"I get up at 02:30 BST, as the slots usually go live between then and 04:00, to try and get a delivery for a few weeks time."

Her husband has a serious lung condition which puts him in the high-risk category, but the couple said they had no family close by to help with their shopping.

Ms Herdman-Grant was among the customers who wrote to their local MLAs asking for the system operating in England to be extended to Northern Ireland.

At the time, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said the situation in Northern Ireland was more "complex" as it relied on multiple databases, in comparison to England where relevant information was stored on a single database.

There were also difficulty and delays introducing similar systems in Wales and Scotland.

Announcing the new system for Northern Ireland on Tuesday, Ms Hargey said she was "delighted that my department has worked with colleagues in the Health and Social Care Board to put a system in place to help those people secure a prioritised online delivery slot".

Health Minister Robin Swann said finding a solution that was safe and secure was "a huge undertaking".

"I am grateful to all those who have worked hard to make this happen," he said.

"This collaboration between the Department for Communities, the HSCB and retailers will provide peace of mind to our most vulnerable, knowing that they have access to this essential service and will be able to get the food that they need, delivered straight to their home."